Minister to Legislators
In his first year as state minister for Capitol Commission in Missouri, John Battaglia has gained the trust of many legislators who see him as a pastor away from home, a teacher with a solid grasp of Scripture, and a nonpartisan confidant who steers clear of political debate.
Capitol Commission in Missouri has been operating for seven years as a nonpartisan, nondenominational ministry that offers in-depth Bible studies at the statehouse. In his role as minister to lawmakers, staff, and even lobbyists, Battaglia is largely trying to establish relationships by practicing the ministry of presence.
"I try to be as available and accessible as I can," says the 52-year-old Battaglia, whose varied background includes pastoring for 25 years. The personable, learned, and high energy Battaglia has a bachelor's degree from Central Bible College, two master's degrees from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and a doctorate in leadership from AGTS.
During the legislative sessions Mondays through Thursdays from January through May, Battaglia is walking through hallways and popping into offices at the statehouse in Jefferson City, checking on the status of lawmakers and offering to pray with them if they so desire. Each morning he prays for God's direction to send him to those who especially need an encounter.
Lawmakers have Battaglia's cellphone number and they know they can call him anytime, year-round. He checks up on them with calls, texts, and email when the legislature isn't in session.
Around one in five Missouri lawmakers -- there are 34 members in the Senate and 163 in the House -- attends a 55-minute Tuesday morning Bible study breakfast that Battaglia presides over. A more casual small group discussion takes place Tuesday evenings. Attendees include strong Christians as well as those who are unsure of or inconsistent in their faith.
"Our vision for ministry at large is to make disciples for Christ," Battaglia says.
Battaglia hopes the Democrats and Republicans who gather for prayer and fellowship likewise view each other as brothers and sisters in Christ on the legislative floor.
"What is God trying to do in placing them here?" Battaglia asks. "There is a higher calling than their legislative role."
Among those grateful for Battaglia's presence is Steve Lynch, in his third year of serving as a representative from Waynesville. Lynch, who is a Sunday School teacher at the Baptist church he attends, says Capitol Commission has helped him fellowship with other Christians while he is in Jefferson City.
"The capitol is a place of continual voices and if we're not careful those voices can drown out the voice of God," says Lynch, 61. "Capitol Commission reminds us that we're not there alone and it keeps us in the Word of God."
Battaglia has seen evidence of spiritual growth in some participants. There also have been darker moments with Christ-professing lawmakers caught in misdeeds. Battaglia doesn't turn his back on those who commit wrongdoings, but he doesn't give them a free pass either. He lets them know he doesn't condone their immoral or unethical actions, but he also prays with them and follows up with attempts to keep them accountable so they will change their behavior.
The intersection of politics and religion can be an environment of power and egotism, but Battaglia is on guard to stay grounded. He also takes measures to not fall into traps that have doomed others, by not dining or riding in a vehicle alone with a female, and not shutting the door completely when counseling a woman.
Battaglia's continued presence in his role is dependent upon the generosity of churches, businesses, and individuals in Missouri. He raises his own monthly missionary support. Capitol Commission also conducts annual fundraising banquets in Jefferson City, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Springfield. Battaglia is available to speak at churches to promote the organization.
Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who spoke at a Capitol Commission fundraiser in Springfield earlier this month, says the organization provides the kind of salt that brings light.
"Capitol Commission doesn't impose religion on anyone," said the 73-year-old Ashcroft, a former Missouri governor and attorney general who is a member of the Assemblies of God. "Spirituality doesn't come by imposition; it comes by inspiration."
Next year Battaglia has a vision to begin a host of new programs. He would like to implement a marriage retreat for legislative couples, who are separated much of the time five months during the year; get Bibles into the hands of all incoming legislators; and launch an intern program for biblical studies students (from Evangel University, for instance) who are interested in occupational ministry.
Battaglia's wife of 25 years, Christine, is the coordinator for the Ph.D. Biblical Theology and Interpretation program and administrative assistant to the faculty at AGTS. The couple lives in Ozark, Missouri, and have three children, Alaina, Brent, and Justin.
Pictured: John Battaglia (right) meets with Rep. Allen Andrews of Grant City in the Missouri Capitol.